In the U.S. there are more than 795,000 strokes of some kind each year, and the most common kind of stroke is clot-related (ischemic). That’s about one every 40 seconds, and 25% of those happen to people who are already stroke survivors. Yet, strokes are largely preventable and treatable – even for people with high blood cholesterol. If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, keeping it under control makes a difference.
What is High Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft fat (lipid) in your blood that’s waxy, and your body uses it to function. Of the two types of cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), LDL is the one that, when levels are too high, can lead to plaque build-up. And when a plaque bursts, it can cause a blood clot to form and block blood flow to the brain, which can lead to a clot-related (ischemic) stroke.
1. Watch Your Numbers
You can’t control what you haven’t measured, so get to know your cholesterol levels. Doctors at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend a cholesterol level check at least once every five years for anyone age 20-years and older. Having this simple blood test more frequently is important as you age – especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol – so follow your doctor’s advice on screening.
2. Get on a Healthy Diet
It’s perhaps the simplest, most powerful step you can take, but for many it’s not the easiest. Yet, eating a heart-healthy diet – choosing high-fiber foods that are low in saturated and trans-fats – can make a big difference in blood cholesterol levels.
3. Exercise More Often
We all could use a little more exercise, and for those with high cholesterol, that’s especially true. First, be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin any new exercise program. Then, follow the American Heart Association’s physical activity recommendations:
- A minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly, or
- 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or
- A combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
And if you’re struggling to get moving toward a heart-healthy life, remember that breaking up your activity into shorter, mini-workouts has the same benefit.
4. Watch Your Weight
Reducing the risks of what causes a stroke is also about keeping an eye on your weight. Talk to your doctor about what “healthy weight” means to you, and get his or her advice on taking the steps you need to take to get and stay fit.
5. Take Your Prescribed Medications
For some, the doctor may recommend lowering cholesterol with prescription medications called statins. If that’s what your doctor advises, follow their directions even when you’re taking other steps to control cholesterol. Some people with high cholesterol simply can’t get their numbers down with diet and exercise, so following a doctor’s advice when it comes to statins can be important.
6. Ask the Doctor about Aspirin
A doctor-directed regimen of low dose aspirin can help keep your blood flowing. Check with your doctor to see if an aspirin regimen is right for you.
7. Get Regular Checkups
It makes sense to keep an eye on “your numbers” when you’re concerned about what causes strokes. Think of your annual or more frequent, doctor-recommended checkup is an opportunity to learn more about how your plan is really working – a chance to get the heart health information you need to keep going.